Driving While Drowsy as Dangerous as Driving While Drunk

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Drivers who find themselves too tired to drive should pull over and take a nap to reduce the risk of an accident.

Drivers who find themselves too tired to drive should pull over and take a nap to reduce the risk of an accident.

A new study by AAA is hoping to wake up drivers to a serious danger. The group’s research found that drivers who miss two or three hours of sleep at night face the same risk of an accident as drunk drivers.

According to AAA, one in five fatal accidents are caused by a driver who did not get enough sleep. About 35% of the 7,000 people interviewed for the study admitted to driving without enough sleep, even though nearly all of them said they knew it was wrong to get behind the wheel when drowsy.

The more sleep a driver misses, the higher the risk of a crash, as compared to drivers who slept at least seven hours the night before:

Amount of Sleep Crash Risk
6 to 7 hours 1.3 times greater
5 to 6 hours 1.9 times greater
4 to 5 hours 4.3 times greater
4 hours or less 11.5 times greater

While drowsy driving may be dangerous, only seven states have laws against driving while sleep deprived: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah. Each state’s laws are different in scope and severity. In New Jersey, for example, a driver who has not slept for 24 hours can be charged with reckless driving and face up to 60 days in jail, up to $200 in fines, and 5 points on his or her license.

New York does not have any laws related to drowsy driving, although state lawmakers attempted to pass such a law 12 times between 2011 and 2015. In each instance, the law was either voted down or never made it out of committee.

One of the reasons why there are so few laws regarding sleepy driving is that, unlike for drunk driving or speeding, there is no way to test for tiredness. In addition, many factors can affect a driver’s level of alertness, including coffee or other stimulants, as well as individual tolerance for sleeplessness.

One high-profile case proved just how difficult this can be. In 2012, a 41-year-old bus driver, Ophadell Williams, was driving back to Chinatown from Mohegan Sun Casino when the bus suddenly swerved, hit the guardrail on I-95, and flipped. The crash killed 15 people and injured dozens more. Williams was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, but prosecutors were unable to prove beyond doubt just how sleep deprived he was at the time and just how much of a role his fatigue played in the accident. As a result, Williams was acquitted of all charges.

Even though drowsy driving is not a crime, New Yorkers should not take it lightly. If you find yourself exhibiting signs of sleepiness behind the wheel or know you have to drive after a night of inadequate rest, the National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Stop driving or delay the trip.
  • Pull over and take a nap for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Take frequent breaks at rest areas or Travel Plazas.
  • Travel with someone and share the driving.

Driving while drowsy can also cause you to inadvertently commit a number of traffic violations, such as unsafe lane change, failure to yield to pedestrians, red light violations, and speeding, in addition to any charges that may result in the event of a car crash. If you have been ticketed for a traffic violation in New York, contact an attorney right away for help. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law Firm are experienced criminal defense and traffic ticket attorneys with offices in New York and New Jersey. Email or call 888-203-2619 for a free consultation about your case.

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This post was written by Adam Rosenblum


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